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Easter Rules!
Isaiah 25:6-9 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 Mark 16:1-3
by Brad Hall

Please note: The “Party Rules” herein referred to are taken in large part (and without permission) from P. J. O’Rourke’s Modern Manners, Chapter 19: Real Parties. We still tell the story in my family of how my great-grandfather and my great-grandmother -- Dad Benson and Mama Benson -- John and Alma -- met. They were at the steamboat landing, they met, and Dad Benson invited MamaBenson to a party that was being held that evening. Then he ran home and organized the party. Now, there is everything right and nothing wrong with the sort of regularly scheduled fellowship we enjoy here together, at Family Luncheons, after Sunday school, and generally whenever we get together, but none of that should be confused with a PARTY. And, as my great-grandfather realized, there are times when only a real party will do. To have a real party, you have to have some rules.

First, a real party never has to have a theme or a fake reason for being. It just IS. Once Mom and Dad went to a party where everybody ended up in the dining room around a Hammond organ singing songs like, “Mairsey Doats and Doesey Doats,” and “Alfalfa Hay.”

For the next thirty parties they went to, the host and hostess would try to get things set up so everyone would gather around and sing again. One couple even hired a professional organist. But it never happened. You can’t sing “Mairsey Doats” under duress.

We in the church ruin a good party when we feel like we have to make people behave a certain way, or say certain things, or when we feel like we have to do something “WORTHWHILE” to earn our keep. We don’t have to make excuses for ourselves. We’re The Church. The Church doesn't have to be a day care center or a food bank or a soup kitchen to justify being here. Those are all good things and I'm glad the Church is doing them, but mostly, we are here and together because God brought us together though the grace of Christ, and this is where the salvation is, and we want to be here. That's good enough.

A real party needs some food, like corn chips or gummi worms or Slim Jims or M&Ms, but the important thing, the CRITICAL thing, is drinks. Kids will put up with sub-standard cheese curls or cheap store-brand imitation Oreos, but if you get the wrong flavor Kool-Aid, you could have a riot on your hands. Kids are like that. PARTIES are like that.

So, yes, the church feeds us with spiritual food, and good wholesome spiritual milk, and it sustains us with the waters of life, but it goes way beyond that.

The church provides its own intoxicant, the Holy Spirit. In the book of Acts, when the spirit was upon the disciples, onlookers thought they were drunk. That is no coincidence -- that’s what the Holy Spirit DOES! Why do you think they call them spirits?

But the the Holy Spirit goes beyond mere INTOXICATION. It makes us ECSTATIC. It draws us OUT of the STATIC -- out of BEING IN PLACE - - and brings us into the life of the spirit and God's love, where a second is long enough to experience an eternity of joy, and that joy doesn’t get old after a thousand lifetimes.

Which brings us to the next rule: Parties happen WHEN THEY HAPPEN. If Dad Benson had been worried about protocol and printed invitations and how long it would take to set everything up, he and Mama Benson never would have become sweethearts, one thing WOULDN’T have led to another, and I never would have been born! All because that party wouldn’t have happened. You’d be sitting here listening to a wise and prudent preacher talking about responsibility or something.

Parties don’t keep schedules. As the year 1999 closed, we heard a lot of talk about the hour growing late, and how we are drawing close to the end of the age, and all that. Well, it's not too late to take advantage of that. It is never to late to have a good party. Never too early, for that matter. Because once it starts, all the problems you thought were so important will no longer matter to you. We are no closer to the end of the age now than when our Lord rose from the dead, and we are no farther from it than we will be when the final trumpet sounds. It can end ten minutes from now or ten thousand years from now.

“Don’t be anxious for tomorrow,” Jesus said. It will be here soon enough. Or it won’t. Either way you win, because you will know you lived in the joy of the moment the risen Christ has given you.

And this is my favorite part: A real party needs at least one person who will be deeply shocked and disturbed and annoyed at what is going on. There is no problem here; we've got half a world full of people who look at the church and get disturbed.

You have Freud saying that religion is comparable to a childhood neurosis; Nietzsche saying that Christianity has waged a deadly war against the higher kind of man and that God is dead; and Bertrand Russell saying that religion belongs to the infancy of human reason and it needs to be outgrown, and people who call themselves FREETHINKERS, with the message being that YOU, CHRISTIAN, are caught up in some sort of brainwashing and NOT THINKING FREELY. And of course there are nameless, faceless millions who can’t articulate their disbelief and annoyance as well as Freud and Nietzsche and Russell, but feel it just the same.

A friend of mine once dated a girl who was such lousy company that we said we had to have twice as much fun just to make up for her. That’s the idea with these types. Just listen and nod politely and say, "I see," and then go have TWICE as much fun just to annoy them. These folks love to argue, but they hate to be ignored, and they REALLY hate to see people enjoying themselves.

We need to add something to that though. At a real party, there is always room for one more. Actually there is always room for a few carloads more. One of the great joys of church life is when the Holy Spirit captures someone’s heart and soul, and an unbeliever becomes one of us, doing the stuff we’ve always done, but bringing in lots of new stuff as well.

The late-comers are always as welcome as the ones who showed up first. They’re not invaders or gate-crashers, they’re REINFORCEMENTS! You always bring something to the party, even if it’s just yourself.

But most importantly, for a REAL party, what you need is people you love and enjoy having around you. At a real party, no matter how loud and how big and how crazy it gets, there is almost always a point where you get a chance to sit down and think about how much fun you are having and how great it is to be with these people and how lucky you are just to be with them. Sometimes that's the best part.

That is what our Communion of the Saints is -- a time for us to sit quietly and think about how blessed we are that the joy of the church did not begin with us, nor will it end with us. By the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, whose resurrection we celebrate today, we will dwell with the great cloud of witnesses in the presence of God forever.

So there you have it. We would have to be INSANE to think that coffee and doughnuts in the fellowship hall is a sufficient or appropriate celebration of this event. There are times when it is downright RUDE to be on your best behavior.

On this Sunday, if you are not absolutely bubbling over with ridiculous, hilarious, all-consuming joy, you simply do not understand the situation.

After all, it is one thing to have a friend who will die for you, but it is something else altogether to have a friend who will die for you, rise from the dead, ascend into heaven, and reign at the right side of God the father almighty for you.

So now, with thanks and joy, and with the peace that passes all understanding, let us join together in the joyous feast that our Lord Jesus has prepared for us, world without end. Amen.